Series : The Parasol Protectorate
Publisher : Orbit, 2009-2010
The steampunk-esque cover for Soulless had been taunting me from the shelf for weeks, but it had the potential to be one of those books that couldn't live up to its cover blurb. So I hesitated. When one of Sydney's best sci-fi/fantasy bookstores gave it a very favourable review, I couldn't resist anymore.
* Image from The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review
Gail Carriger packs a lot into the first novel of the Parasol Protectorate. Vampires, werewolves, the concept of "Soulless" - I won't give that away - and high tea. The series continues to build on Alexia Tarabotti's forays into the unforgiving social world of Victorian England, tempered by Carriger's stylish and humorous writing.
I had concerns that steampunk + supernatural + Victorian comedy of manners = too much goodness, and it does - but in the best possible way. Carriger's impetus for this peculiar bundle is a character-driven plot, in which England could not have maintained its autonomy without the help of supernatural forces. Vampires, you see, are masters of society and its manners. Werewolves are master tacticians. Together, the two are an unbeatable combination, and the royal family has wisely used this combination to build an indomitable England.
The books might be laden with new ideas but they are by no means heavy, and they made me laugh out loud on several occasions. Aside from Alexia, our witty but soulless heroine, there is a string of memorable and engaging characters. From werewolves in waistcoats and flamboyantly gay vampires, to a woman who is far too fond of ridiculous headgear, Alexia's acquaintances populate the pages with quirky charm. Changeless and Blameless are excellent as well, and the story speeds along with dashes of fiery romance, mischievous deeds, secret labs and dirigible flights.
This is worldbuilding at its best, and I can't wait until July 2011 for book four, Heartless.
A word of warning : don't read blurbs for books 2-5 on Gail Carriger's official website until you've read the novel previous. As River Song would say, "Spoilers!"